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A Struggle of Survival: Chechen Refugees

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We all have days that we’d rather not remember. Days we didn’t want to get out of bed, days we didn’t want to go to school. Days where life didn't seem so great. But then someone reminds you that there is a tomorrow, that life isn’t limited to depression. That we, in fact, have pretty good lives. And that our problems, really aren’t so great.

All of this is part of growing up, part of being a teen. Yet, I’ve found that sometimes simply having someone telling you that you have a better life than most, isn’t always enough.

The following has been recovered from an interview from December 9, 2009 and is to remind you of the other side. The side of the world where people struggle to fight for the basic human rights we take for granted in the US so easily:

Chechnya is a country in the south east part of Europe. It was a part of the Soviet Union, and after its fall, has struggled to keep its independence. Today, it is recognized as a state of Russia.

In a refugee home in Vienna, Austria,three other students and I interviewed four refugees. All of them were girls from Chechnya. Elza and Layla are sisters, ages 14 and 15. Lisa and Laresa are also sisters, they are 15 and 16. They escaped from the civil war and traveled with their families all the way to Austria, mainly on foot but also by bus and hitchhiking. The distance is over 1800 miles. The girl’s speak Chechen, Russian, German and a bit of Polish and English. Their hobbies are ice skating, drawing, dancing and video games. All four now go to a normal Austrian school.

This is their story:

Student: How long have you been in Austria, when you started school?
Lisa: Two Weeks. We just arrived from Poland.
Student: Is it important for you to help people?
Elza: Yes it’s the most important.
Student: How did you imagine Austria?
Elza: Like this! Rich…
Student: What do you like here?
Elza: We like everything – also the weather. We are from the north, there it is even colder.
Student: What don’t you like?
All: Nothing, we have nothing that we don’t like. We are really, really happy here…
Student: Do you think sometimes of your home country?
Layla: Sometimes, but we don’t want to go home.
Elza: I don’t want to go back. I would rather kill myself…
Student: What do you think of when you think of your home country?
Larisa:
I know that many Chechen’s got killed. Blood everywhere. It was horrible.
Student: How was this, when you were 7,8 or 9 years old? What did your parents say to you? We are going now, my daughter?
Elza: We were already fleeing from one village in Chechnya to the next. Russian soldiers wanted to kill us…Fleeing was nothing new to us.
Larisa:
Soldiers wanted to kill my father. I don’t know why. I never wanted to talk about this with my father. We took the car of a friend.
Student: Did you go by car the whole way?
Larisa:
No, we walked…
Student: You walked the whole way at the age of 9 years?
Larisa:
Yes, most of the way…through the woods. We were three families fleeing together. One family had a 7 year old son who stepped on a landmine in the woods. He died. We heard gun shooting and were running. We were afraid. Sometimes my parents carried me…
Student: Did somebody help you?
Larisa:
Sometimes we took a truck and were hiding behind carton boxes…
Student: Do you know through which countries were you fleeing?
Larisa:
We arrived first in Poland where we lived two years. It was not good there. We got beaten, slept in different houses…my father arrived later, he was in prison where he got tortured…
Student: What was the worst/saddest moment in this time?
Larisa:
Once we were in a bus in Chechnya – driving from one village to the next. Suddenly soldiers pulled a young man out of the bus and all the women cried: “Let him go!”, about one hour later they brought him back, he was standing in front of us, completely lifeless and falling down…we recognized that they had put a snake into his throat…(started to cry)…
Student: Is there still a war between Chechnya and Russia?
Doris: Many Human Rights Organizations say that the situation gets worse and worse again…
Elza: My family in Chechen says that young people kill themselves, because the situation is so bad…





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